[Marxism] Gen. Abizaid indicates long-term troop presence, permanent bases to bolster Iraq "moderates"

Russell Morse russell.morse at yahoo.com
Sat Mar 18 09:52:10 MST 2006

Tom Engelhardt has followed this grossly under-reported story closely on his blog
at http://www.tomdispatch.org and in this article from The Nation:

[subscription required]

Can You Say 'Permanent Bases'?


In a recent Zogby poll, American troops stationed in Iraq were asked
about an otherwise unexplored subject: the massive network of bases the
Bush Administration is building in that country. Only 6 percent said
they believed that America's "real mission" in Iraq was "to provide
long-term bases for US troops in the region." You can bet your bottom
dollar that if Zogby had been able to do an honest poll of top Bush
Administration officials on the subject, he'd have gotten quite a
different response.

It makes no sense to talk about withdrawal from Iraq, which has recently
been the object of much speculation (in the same Zogby poll, 72 percent
of the troops in Iraq said they want the United States to exit that
country within a year), without also talking about those bases. Yet they
have hardly been mentioned in our media or in political discussion. We
have no idea, in fact, how many Americans even realize that we have such

Sometimes to get one's bearing it helps to focus on the concrete. In an
online engineering magazine in late 2003, Lieut. Col. David Holt, the
Army officer described as "tasked with facilities development" in Iraq,
was already speaking of several billion dollars being sunk into base
construction, which has been continuing ever since. In a country
otherwise in startling disarray, our bases are like vast spaceships from
another solar system. A staggering investment of resources, they are
unlikely places for the Bush Administration to hand over willingly even
to the friendliest Iraqi government.

If Bush-style reconstruction, having failed dismally, is now essentially
ending in most of Iraq, it has been a raging success in Iraq's "Little
America." For the first time, we have descriptions of a couple of our
"super-bases" there, and they are sobering. The Washington Post's Thomas
Ricks paid a visit to Balad Air Base, forty-two miles north of Baghdad
and "smack in the middle of the most hostile part of Iraq." The largest
base in the country, Ricks tells us, has an American "small-town feel"
and is sizable enough to have "neighborhoods," including "KBR-land" (in
honor of the Halliburton subsidiary that has done most base-construction
work) and the walled-in "CJSOTF" (the Combined Joint Special Operations
Task Force, so secretive that even the base Army public affairs chief
hasn't been inside). There is as well a Subway, a Pizza Hut, a Popeye's,
"an ersatz Starbucks," a twenty-four-hour Burger King, two post
exchanges where TVs, iPods and the like, convoyed in, can be purchased,
four mess halls, a hospital, a speed limit of ten miles per hour, a huge
airstrip, 250 aircraft, air-traffic pileups of a sort familiar over
Chicago's O'Hare airport and a "miniature golf course, which mimics a
battlefield with its baby sandbags, little Jersey barriers, strands of
concertina wire and, down at the end of the course, what appears to be a
tiny detainee cage." Ricks reports that, of the 20,000 troops living in
"air-conditioned containers" (soon to be wired for Internet, cable
television and overseas telephone access), "only several hundred have
jobs that take them off base." Recently, British reporter Oliver Poole
visited the still-under-construction al-Asad Air Base in a stretch of
desert in Anbar Province that "increasingly resembles a slice of US
suburbia." In addition to the requisite Subway and pizza outlets, this
super-base even has a Hertz rent-a-car office. In fact, al-Asad is so
large--such bases may cover fifteen to twenty square miles--that it has
two bus routes.

There are at least four such "super-bases" in Iraq, little American
islands of eternal order in an anarchic sea. Whatever top officials and
military commanders say--and they always deny seeking "permanent bases"-
-facts on the ground speak with another voice.

Unfortunately, there's a problem in grasping the import of any of this,
since American reporters apparently adhere to a simple rule: The words
"permanent," "bases" and "Iraq" should never be placed in the same news
report. A LexisNexis search of three months of press coverage produced
examples of those three words in British reports, but US examples
occurred only when 80 percent of polled Iraqis (obviously unhinged by
their difficult lives) agreed that the United States might want to
remain permanently in their country, or when "no" or "not" was added to
the mix via any official American denial--as when Brig. Gen. Mark
Kimmitt said recently: "It is not only our plan but our policy that we
do not intend to have any permanent bases in Iraq." (In other words, in
the media such bases, imposing as they are, generally exist only in the

Still, for a period the Pentagon practiced something closer to truth in
advertising. They called their big bases "enduring bases," a label that
reeked of permanence. (Later, these were far less romantically relabeled
"contingency operating bases.")

One mystery of this war--given an Administration so weighted toward
military solutions to global problems; given the heft of the bases
themselves; given the mothballing of our Saudi bases, for which these
were clearly long-term substitutes; given the focus of the neocons and
other top officials on controlling what they called "the arc of
instability" (basically, the energy heartlands of the planet) at whose
epicenter was Iraq; and given that Pentagon pre-war planning for
"enduring camps" was, briefly, a front-page story in a major newspaper--
is that reporting on the subject has been next to nonexistent. While
much space has been devoted to the Administration's lack of postwar
planning, next to none has been devoted to what planning did take place.

A little history may be in order here: Soon after Baghdad fell, Thom
Shanker and Eric Schmitt reported on the front page of the New York
Times that the Pentagon was planning to "maintain" four bases in Iraq
for the long haul, though "there will probably never be an announcement
of permanent stationing of troops." Rather than "permanent bases," the
military preferred to speak coyly of "permanent access" to Iraq. The
bases, however, fit snugly with other Pentagon plans. For instance,
Saddam's 400,000-man military was to be replaced by a 40,000-man one
without significant armor or an air force. (In an otherwise heavily
armed region, this insured that any Iraqi government would be reliant on
our military for years to come.)

At a press conference a few days later, Donald Rumsfeld insisted that
the United States was unlikely to seek any permanent or "long-term"
bases in Iraq--and the Times piece was consigned to the memory hole.
While scads of bases were being built--including four huge ones whose
placement correlated fairly strikingly with those mentioned in the Times
article--reports about US bases in Iraq, or any Pentagon planning in
relation to them, largely disappeared.

In May 2005 Bradley Graham of the Washington Post finally reported that
we had 106 bases, ranging from micro to mega, in Iraq. Most of these
were to be ceded to the Iraqi military, leaving the United States with,
Graham reported, just the number of bases--four--that the Times had
first mentioned more than two years earlier, including the bases Ricks
and Poole visited. This reduction was presented not as a fulfillment of
original Pentagon thinking but as a withdrawal plan.

The future of a fifth base--the enormous Camp Victory at Baghdad
International Airport--remains, as far as we know, unresolved; but at
least one more super-base is being built. The Administration is sinking
at least $592 million into a new US Embassy to rise in Baghdad's Green
Zone on land reportedly two-thirds the size of the National Mall. A
high-tech complex with "15 ft blast walls and ground-to-air missiles"
for protection, it will, according to Chris Hughes of the British Daily
Mirror, include as many as "300 houses for consular and military
officials" and a "large-scale barracks" for marines. According to David
Phinney of CorpWatch.org, the complex's "water, electricity and sewage
treatment plants will all be independent from Baghdad's city utilities."
It's billed as "more secure than the Pentagon" (not, perhaps, the most
reassuring tag line in the post-9/11 world). If not quite a city-state,
it will resemble an embassy-state.

As Middle East expert Juan Cole has pointed out at his Informed Comment
blog, the Pentagon can plan for "endurance" in Iraq forever and a day.
Nothing, however, makes such bases more "permanent" than their Vietnam-
era predecessors at places like Danang and Cam Ranh Bay, if the Shiites,
like the Sunnis, decide they want us gone.

To this day, those Little Americas remain at the secret heart of
"reconstruction" policy in Iraq. As long as KBR keeps building them,
there can be no genuine withdrawal. Despite recent press visits, our
super-bases remain swathed in policy silence. The Bush Administration
does not discuss them (other than to deny their permanence). No plans
for them are debated in Congress. The opposition Democrats generally
ignore them.

It may be hard to do, given the skimpy coverage, but keep your eyes
directed at those super-bases. Until the Administration blinks with
regard to them, there will be no withdrawal from Iraq.

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